Monthlong Sweep Targeted Sex Traffickers, Recovery of Minors

A month long FBI-led operation to identify and arrest sex traffickers and recover child victims has resulted in dozens of arrests across the country and the identification and recovery of more than 100 juveniles.

The initiative during the month of July, dubbed Operation Independence Day, relied on more than 400 law enforcement agencies working on FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces in each of the Bureau’s 56 field offices. The sweep included undercover operations and has led to the opening of five dozen federal criminal investigations. Agents and analysts at FBI Headquarters and in the field worked closely with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to identify young runaways, missing kids, and juveniles who may have been subjected to human trafficking.

In all, 103 juveniles were identified or recovered and 67 suspected traffickers were arrested. The sweep resulted in 60 new federal investigations.

“The FBI is fiercely focused on recovering child victims and arresting the sex traffickers who exploit them,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “Through operations like this, the FBI helps child victims escape the abusive life of sex trafficking.”

In past years, the FBI initiated weeklong coordinated nationwide sweeps under the name Operation Cross Country to arrest traffickers and recover underage victims. This year, FBI field offices had a longer time window to plan and execute operations as part of the national initiative, with the goal being to develop richer leads and intelligence, and more robust cases.

“We are here to rescue children, and we are here to build good cases against traffickers,” said Jeanette Milazzo, a special agent who led one of the Houston Field Office’s task force operations in early July. In that operation, undercover officers from the Houston Police Department scanned social media and escort sites looking for what appeared to be juveniles advertising for commercial sex. They set up fake dates, met at pre-arranged locations, and then brought individuals (and their pimps in some cases) in for interviews to determine if they were underage or trafficked or if they could help identify other victims or traffickers. In each case, FBI victim specialists ensure the individuals understand their situation and are made aware of the resources available to help them.

“If we have developed enough rapport with the victim, we build a case against their trafficker and hopefully charge them in federal court,” Milazzo said.

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FBI Takes Victim-Centered Approach to Combating Trafficking

Late one night in April 2016, Antonio Hawkins noticed a crying teenage girl walking down the street in Houston, Texas. She was a runaway from out of state with nowhere to go, and he told her he would help her.

Instead, Hawkins brought the girl to Tennessee, where he spent two weeks trafficking the 15-year-old for sex in the Memphis area. He brutally beat her to keep her in line and stole all of her earnings. Hawkins was also trafficking three other women at that time, using violence and threats to control them as well.

“He recruited girls and women who were down on their luck,” said Special Agent Jaime Corman, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Memphis Field Office. “He told his victims he would take care of them, but he violently kept them in check and controlled every aspect of their lives.”

Instead of trafficking the young women online, as many pimps do today, he had them walking an area of Memphis known for prostitution. A Memphis police officer found her there and notified the FBI, who was able to assist her and help find and stop her trafficker.

While agents investigated the case, specialists from the FBI’s Victim Services Division helped the girl find resources to rebuild her life. Since then, she has found an apartment and a job, and she overcame her fear of Hawkins to testify against him at his trial.

“These guys target the most vulnerable—runaways, foster kids, kids who come from difficult circumstances,” Corman said. “They commit crimes against these girls, making them sell their bodies. We want to show these young women that there’s something else out there for them, and they don’t have to continue down this path.”

Last July, Hawkins was convicted of five sex trafficking charges, and in November, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Corman said the FBI works closely with local law enforcement to stop traffickers and help victims. Local police are often the first to interact with the victims, while the FBI brings national resources to these cases, which often span multiple states and jurisdictions. In this case, after being contacted by a local officer, the FBI helped not only track down the pimp but also manage the complexity of bringing in victims from other parts of the country to participate in his trial.

“Local law enforcement are the people who come in contact with these victims, and we count on them to recognize human trafficking and call us,” Corman said.

Although January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the FBI and its partners work to end human trafficking all year long. The FBI’s approach is a victim-centered one, working to get pimps off the streets and help the victims move forward with their lives. In addition to the investigative work, the Bureau’s Victim Services Division works with hundreds of victims of human trafficking each year—notifying them about the status of their offenders’ cases and connecting them with resources to unify them with their families, find jobs, find housing, obtain drug treatment if necessary, and more.

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Sex traffickers are on many websites. Why is police action so rare?

HADLEY MA Jan 17 2018 — Prosecutors painted a squalid picture of what went on inside the little house on busy Russell Street: The Asian women were kept there night and day, providing sexual services for a fee, sleeping where they worked, and rarely venturing outside except to take out the trash.

The customers themselves led law enforcement to the address in 2016, by writing detailed reviews of the services they received at Hadley Massage Therapy — services that went far beyond massage. On a controversial website called Rubmaps.com, they described their sexual experiences in detail, including how much they paid, what services they received, and their level of satisfaction with the women’s performance.

“These are reviews on victims of human trafficking,’’ said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office led the investigation into the alleged sex traffickers who ran centers in Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Framingham. “It’s terrible, their depiction of women. . . . It’s just truly appalling.”

The now-closed Hadley Massage Therapy is one of hundreds of erotic massage centers described on Rubmaps.com in Massachusetts alone — and there are some 7,000 nationwide.

But even though law enforcement officials can easily find other suspected sex-trafficking operations on Rubmaps.com and other so-called John boards, listings on these sites seldom lead to prosecution.

That’s because of the sheer number of businesses and the legal resources needed to take each one down. Shutting them down is not as simple as rounding up the men and women in the massage parlor. State and local officials say they don’t want simply to arrest women workers — who are increasingly considered victims — but to take down the business operators who often run multiple storefronts.

Healey said her office will continue to go after the massage businesses described on the review boards. But even when law enforcement moves against erotic massage parlors, conviction of alleged traffickers is no slam dunk. The women, many of them fearful of deportation and unable to speak English, often make reluctant and poor witnesses. After being questioned, they often leave the state. The New England Center’s efforts to reach alleged victims from recent busts proved unsuccessful.

Donna Gavin, head of the human trafficking unit for the Boston Police Department, said police scrutinize review boards during investigations when they get tips about problematic addresses. But they have to be selective because investigations can be labor intensive, she said.

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Train Nurses to Spot Human Trafficking Victims

Healthcare professionals are in a unique position to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking. Nearly 88 percent of them seek medical treatment during captivity, and of those, 68 percent of them are seen in the emergency department (ED). Unfortunately, many victims slip through the cracks and remain “hidden.” A study released today (June 26, 2017 at 12:01 a.m.) in the Emergency Nurses Association’s Journal of Emergency Nursing aims to help emergency nurses better identify victims of human trafficking. The study details an evidence-based project that shines a spotlight on the importance of formal education, screening and treatment protocols for emergency department personnel to guide identification and rescue victims of human trafficking.

“Interestingly, we found that not only were formal education and treatment methods effective strategies to improve recognition and save human trafficking victims, but they also increased the identification of other forms of abuse such as domestic violence and sexual assault,” said study author Amber Egyud, DNP, RN, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Forbes Hospital, Allegheny Health Network.

A multidisciplinary team implemented the project at a level two trauma center in a southwestern Pennsylvania community hospital ED where no human trafficking victims had ever been identified before. The team taught ED staff a two-pronged identification approach: medical red flags created by a risk assessment tool embedded into the electronic health record and a silent notification process. They also advised on the proper protocol to ensure the successful rescue and safety of the victims.

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Investigator’s Persistence Leads to Break in Abduction Case

“To crack Minnesota’s biggest cold case — the 1989 abduction of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling — authorities went back to the early days of the investigation.

They turned a renewed spotlight last year on a man who was questioned soon after Jacob’s disappearance but was never charged. That ultimately led to Saturday’s announcement that Jacob’s remains finally had been found.

“On these kinds of cases it’s really a tribute to law enforcement that they simply never give up. … This is what persistence will reveal,” Michael Campion, former superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and former commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, said Sunday.

The case has not lain dormant for those 27 years, said Tom Heffelfinger, former U.S. attorney for Minnesota. To the contrary, he said, it’s been a top priority for local and federal law enforcement the entire time.”

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Off-duty security officer springs into action

“An off-duty security officer driving down a road sprang into action after being flagged down by a woman reporting a kidnapping in progress.
After getting off the light rail, the night turned to chaos after she says a man tried to grab her 7-year-old daughter.
Boone and her husband were able to keep the man away from their daughter, but they needed help and that’s when she flagged down a passing security guard.
“A woman who saw my patrol vehicle was jumping up and down and waving at me. I drove up and asked her if she needed help and she said ‘Yes, someone tried to steal my kid,’” said Security officer Casey Smith.
Smith says he was off-duty but that he wanted to help the Boones.
He confronted the man and tried to him down and keep him in the area until police could arrived but things turned violent, and the man tried to fight him. So Smith, who says he weighs at least 300 pounds, got him on the ground and held him until help got there.
“I just rolled the person over and then sat on them. Literally just jumped on his back and sat there holding his hands behind him until the police arrived,” said Smith.
Officers told him the guy may have gotten away if he hadn’t intervened.
“I would want someone to do the same thing for me. This day and age everything is so volatile. People are getting taken from different states and everything else and it’s just really hard not to help people,” said Smith.
The suspect now faces a charge of misdemeanor assault for pushing the husband. But detectives told Boone he’s not facing attempted kidnapping charges because he didn’t touch their daughter.
The man is not in jail. Phoenix police were not able to provide an update on the case Saturday night.

A local Phoenix news station has reported that the man has been arrested 54 times, mostly for public intoxication, drinking in public and assault.”

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Public Tip Leads to Safe Recovery of 3-Year-Old Florida Kidnap Victim

On August 3, 2015, Putnam County (Florida) Sheriff’s deputies and agents from the FBI’s Daytona Beach Resident Agency, Jacksonville Field Office, rescued 3-year-old Lilly Abigail Baumann and took her mother, Megan Elizabeth Everett, into custody. Everett, wanted on a local arrest warrant issued for allegedly kidnapping her daughter from Sunrise, Florida in May 2014, was also wanted on a federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

In May 2014, officers from the Sunrise Police Department responded to a report of a parental kidnapping. Everett failed to return her daughter to the girl’s father as directed in their custody agreement. After a thorough investigation and efforts to locate the child, Sunrise Police Department officials believed she had left their jurisdiction with her daughter and requested assistance from the FBI Miami Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force.

The FBI—with its partners at the Sunrise Police Department—continued to work the case to track down Everett and her daughter, following up on tips and sending out leads. On August 2, 2015, Everett’s case was featured on the CNN program The Hunt with John Walsh. During the program, Bureau representatives helped staff a call center accepting incoming tips from the public. During one such phone call, real-time FBI analysis was able to determine the validity of the information offered by the tipster, and the following morning, investigators were able to locate Everett and her daughter at a residence in Palatka, Florida. Everett was taken into custody without incident, and Lilly was placed into protective custody. The 3-year-old was reunited with her father a short time later.

Miami press release

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Cold Case Investigation

Solving a Decades-Old Mystery

Tonya Hughes was just shy of her 21st birthday on a spring day in 1990 when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Oklahoma City. She died five days later, but the investigation into her suspicious death led to a mystery—and a murder—that took decades to fully unravel.

That’s because Tonya Hughes was not who anyone thought she was—and neither was her husband, Clarence Hughes, who now sits on death row in a Florida prison.

“The FBI has been chipping away at this one,” said Special Agent Scott Lobb, who began working the cold case investigation in 2013 out of the Bureau’s Oklahoma City Division. “There were a lot of peculiar twists to this case.”

Tonya left behind a child, Michael Hughes. Her husband claimed he was Michael’s biological father, but shortly after Tonya died, Clarence gave Michael to Oklahoma state welfare officials and promptly disappeared. “He knew the truth would come out,” Lobb said, “and so he fled.”

The truth—discovered during the hit-and-run investigation—was that Clarence Hughes was actually Franklin Delano Floyd, a federal fugitive from Georgia wanted since 1973.

Floyd was arrested in Georgia two months later and sent back to prison to serve the rest of his sentence. A blood test revealed that he was not Michael’s biological father. That fact apparently didn’t matter to Floyd, because when he got out of prison in 1993, he was determined to get custody of Michael. And he did—by kidnapping the 6-year-old from elementary school on September 12, 1994.

When authorities caught up with him in Kentucky two months later, Michael was nowhere to be found, and Floyd would not say what happened to the boy. Floyd was later found guilty of a federal kidnapping charge and sent to prison.

During the kidnapping investigation, photos were found taped to the gas tank of Floyd’s pickup truck that showed a young woman who appeared to be bound and beaten. Years later, the woman—Cheryl Ann Comesso—was identified and matched to remains that had previously been discovered near a freeway on-ramp near Tampa, Florida. Floyd was charged with her 1989 murder, convicted, and sentenced to death in 2002.

The investigation into Michael’s kidnapping also determined that Tonya Hughes, too, had been kidnapped by Floyd—sometime between 1973 and August 1975—and when he surfaced in Oklahoma City, he began introducing his future wife as his daughter.

In 2013, the FBI and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children conducted a cold case review of the Hughes kidnapping and reopened the investigation. A year later, Lobb and Special Agent Nate Furr spent several days interviewing Floyd in prison regarding Tonya and Michael Hughes.

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International Parental Kidnapping Case

Partnerships, Publicity Key to 9-Year-Old’s Rescue

When 9-year-old Billy Hanson didn’t return to Pennsylvania after spending the summer with his father in Seattle, the boy’s mother called her local police department, setting in motion an international kidnapping investigation that led FBI agents halfway around the world to a tiny island in the South Pacific.

What would eventually bring the case to a successful conclusion was the extraordinary collaboration between local, federal, and international law enforcement and other agencies. But on that September day in 2014 when Billy was not on the flight he was supposed to be on, his mother “was obviously very concerned,” said Special Agent Carolyn Woodbury, who led the investigation from the FBI’s Seattle Division.

Johanna Hanson had agreed to let her son spend that July and August living with his father, Jeff Hanson, aboard a 30-foot sailboat named the Draco. But after Billy arrived in Washington, she began receiving text messages from her estranged husband suggesting that Billy would not be returning in the fall—a clear violation of their court-approved custody agreement.

Johanna called the Hazelton Pennsylvania Police Department, who, in turn, contacted the Port of Seattle Police Department. In August, a welfare check was conducted, which showed that Billy and his father were on the boat in Seattle, and all seemed to be well. A week later, however, the airplane ticket Billy’s grandfather had purchased for his return to the East Coast was never used—and the Draco was nowhere to be found.

The FBI-led Seattle Safe Streets Task Force, which includes the Seattle Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, was called for assistance. Task force members who went to the marina and elsewhere to conduct interviews learned that 46-year-old Jeff Hanson had given away some of his personal belongings, that he had previously sailed the Draco around the world, and—most significantly—that he had a six-day head start on investigators. In other words, he was likely on the open sea and could be headed anywhere. Investigators also learned another troubling fact, Woodbury said: “We were told that Billy didn’t know how to swim.”

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Introducing AMBER Alerts on Facebook

Today, we are announcing a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to send AMBER Alerts to the Facebook community to help find missing children.

The new initiative will deliver AMBER Alerts to people’s News Feeds in targeted search areas after a child has been abducted and the National Center has issued an alert.

These alerts, which include photographs and other details about the missing child, are shown on mobile and desktop. People can share the alert with friends and link directly to the National Center’s missing child poster, which always has the most up-to-date information about the case.

For years, people have used Facebook to post news articles about missing children and AMBER Alerts. In several cases, someone saw a post or photo in their News Feed, took action, and a child was safely returned.

In 2014, an 11-year-old girl was safely recovered after a motel owner recognized her from an AMBER Alert that a friend had shared on Facebook. The woman called the police, and the child was found unharmed. It’s amazing word-of-mouth efforts like this that inspired us to develop a more systematic way to help find missing children on Facebook.

We know the chances of finding a missing child increase when more people are on the lookout, especially in the critical first hours. Our goal is to help get these alerts out quickly to the people who are in the best position to help.

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